Miami Herald, The (FL)
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COMMISSION: Dade urges renewing assault-arms ban
Miami-Dade lobbyists will urge Congress to renew an assault weapons ban the president let expire three years ago.
CHARLES RABIN, crabin@MiamiHerald.com
Miami-Dade County commissioners on Tuesday joined a growing chorus to reinstate the assault weapons ban that President Bush let expire in 2004.
The commission ordered their lobbyists to pressure Congress to renew the law, and urged the Florida Legislature to institute a ban on assault weapons, and to lift a preemption in place that keeps local governments from imposing the ban.
Murders with the high-powered, quick-shot weapons have been on a steady rise throughout most big cities in the nation since 2004. But locally, it was the September death of Miami-Dade police Officer Jose Somohano in South Dade at the hands of Shawn LaBeet's modified Mak-90 that caught the attention of police and politicians.
LaBeet owned nine guns -- six of them assault weapons.
Despite Somohano's death and a recent rash of murders blamed on assault weapons, Miami-Dade likely has a steep hill to climb in convincing state lawmakers to set new parameters on weapons.
"I doubt the Legislature will do either one," said Eustis Republican Sen. Carey Baker, a gun-shop owner. "This type of gun control probably isn't constitutional, it doesn't keep criminals from committing crimes, and it's really unpopular."
Republican House Rep. Julio Robaina of South Miami supports a ban, but said "it will be a war in Tallahassee with the NRA [National Rifle Association] to pass legislation to ban any type of weapon."
The assault weapons have become so easily found in South Florida, and are so affordable, that Miami Police Detective Delrish Moss said he's heard they're being sold from the trunks of cars for as little as $200 or $300.
Also joining the call to reinstate the ban was Miami-Dade's police union chief John Rivera, who said that while he supports the right to bear arms, "I do not believe there's a place in society for certain assault weapons, an AK-47 is one of them. It was blue-printed for war."
Calls for reform became loud and clear after the Somohano shooting, which left three other Miami-Dade officers injured.
Miami Police Chief John Timoney authorized his officers to carry similar weapons. Three days later the International Chiefs of Police issued a report calling for the bans' reinstatement.
Timoney called the sunsetting of the ban 'a friggin' disgrace." Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez also supports a ban. The former county police director said he's noticed an increase in assault weapons on the black market. He also said "while I strongly support the Second Amendment, we must get illegal guns off the streets."
WEAPONS FOR OFFICERS
So far, according to Moss, his department has bought 27 assault weapons for its officers, and has another 30 ordered. None are on the street yet, as staff moves ahead at implementing policy.
In Miami-Dade on Tuesday, the commission's resolution focused on how semiautomatic assault weapons like Uzis and AK-47s are designed for military purposes and are "the weapons of choice for gang members, drug dealers and other dangerous criminals."
The commission voted 8-3, with Chairman Bruno Barreiro, and commissioners Rebeca Sosa and Jose "Pepe" Diaz voting against the measure. Barbara Jordan and Javier Souto were absent. The resolution was sponsored by Jordan, and commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Carlos Gimenez, Dorrin Rolle and Katy Sorenson.
Miami's murders attributed to the dangerous firearms have jumped from two in 2004, to 14 in 2005, and "already well above that number this year," according to Moss.
In unincorporated Miami-Dade, 18 people were killed with assault weapons last year and 11 have died so far this year. Sosa said she's open to changing her vote if she can be convinced by experts that it will cut down on crime. Barreiro, who owns a pair of guns, said he doesn't believe that eliminating guns would stop assaults.
"People are, unfortunately, the ones who kill people," said the commission chairman.
Diaz, who has a gun permit, said he simply believes in the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.
"If you're going to create harm, you're going to do it with any weapon," he said.
Frustrated the assault weapon ban was permitted to sunset, the states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York all have passed laws making them illegal.